Storytelling is a big word for something that can be either really simple or really complex. What is undisputed, however, is the fact that storytelling and content marketing go together like peanut butter and jelly on a slice of toast.
Storytelling in marketing generally refers to the usage of a narrative to improve traditional advertisements, inbound marketing and/or social media campaigns. Stories can transport emotions, memories or subliminal messages in a way that simple advertising campaigns cannot.
A story is usually structured with a beginning, a main part (the body) and a conclusion – often introducing a problem, a humorous incident, a love theme or a tragic encounter.
But why exactly does storytelling work so well with marketing? And is storytelling capable of effectively improving your inbound marketing, no matter what industry you are working in?
Following a short introduction on the nature and effect of storytelling, I will use three examples to explain how storytelling can be implemented in any industry and what can be gained from it in terms of attracting new leads, improving your reputation, optimizing your branding and more.
And They Lived Happily Ever After…
To begin with, storytelling is not merely a nice asset in inbound marketing that a company may or may not have. Storytelling actually represents a marketing technique that no one in the online business can afford to do without.
In inbound marketing, telling stories helps to alter traditional forms of marketing in a way that reduces some of their occasional negative side-effects such as being too pushy, too obvious and too persuasive.
Storytelling can create an engaging image of why a brand or a product can make your life better, more enjoyable, safer, more exciting and so on. It is also significantly easier to convey a message through the structure of a story. You are able to tell a story with one single image. Could you do the same with just one word? (Let‘s just forget for one second about the famous one-sentence “baby shoes”-story.)
Moreover, stories accompany us from when we were little kids. We are familiar with both their structure and their intent and usually enjoy hearing them.
As a consequence, an (inbound) marketing message conveyed through direct or indirect storytelling reaches our brain in a more direct way, stays longer in our memory and might be more convincing than a simple marketing message à la “Buy this product!”.
3 Online Verticals, 3 Stories to Tell
Now that we understand why stories work so well in marketing, the question becomes, “Is it possible to use storytelling in every industry?”
And the answer is, “Yes. Why wouldn’t it be?”
Even if you are selling something as seemingly boring as steam cleaners, there is a story to be told that can positively influence the marketing strategy behind your product.
1. DIY Stores
Storytelling doesn’t have to be verbal. Visual content can be an excellent way to incorporate narratives in every niche.
Advertising often depicts family-centric, lifestyle-focused vignettes. The imagery of a happy family sitting around a table, gathered in a beautiful garden or laughing in a car on a road trip transports myriads of emotions and messages, without us even fully realizing it.
Visitors to online DIY stores like Wickes.com and DIY.com, see the ubiquitous array of sunlit gardens with beautiful patios, Dad mowing the lawn with the kids’ playhouse in the background, a breakfast table ready with sliced grapefruits and so on.
What these images do is quite simple: They take rather sterile products (like lawnmowers or deck boards) and build a convincible story around them that makes both the products and the thought of purchasing them desirable to the potential customer.
From a simple food blog to an enterprise with employees and an office, Deliciously Ella has been through some major transformations in the last couple of months.
It’s safe to say that health food blogger Ella Woodward is the rising star of the European health food scene, resulting in a company born of her personal blog and the story behind it.
Her website and success story is an example of how storytelling can take the lead and turn a non-profit blog (in the form of personal accounts and recipes) into a real enterprise. The story in and of itself is quite simple: a young woman is stricken with a rare disease which basically makes her bedridden. After six months of conventional medicine, she discovers that a change in her diet makes her feel much better. She then starts a blog and publishes recipes, natural beauty tips, and general diet suggestions.
Ella Woodward has managed to turn her story of successfully battling an illness with the help of a healthy, plant-based diet into a whole enterprise of hosting events, writing cookbooks and distributing kitchen appliances via her website.
What we have here is a classic story of a problem that is overcome by either an action or a product. In this case, both: switching to a healthier diet on the one hand and plant-based, organic food on the other.
Everybody has been sick and knows how devastating it can be, everybody can relate to the relief of starting to feel better after an illness and don’t we all think we should improve our diet and eat healthier from time to time?
A blog is the perfect place to create stories around yourself, your brand, your product, your industry. As a consequence, you can make your product more interesting, more sociable and overall more relatable.
If you visit Esprit.com these days, you will not only land on a beautifully designed and animated website but actually find the category “stories” among your usual suspects of “women”, “men”, “kids”, “new”, “sale”, etc.
Upon first glance, you see the words “Stories inspired by friendship” displayed as a banner over a large image of 7 people, all dressed in white, taking a walk on the beach.
Scrolling down, you see two images next to each other, featuring two smiling women on a picnic blanket with a text overlay that says “Meet you by the sea – Your guide to summer.” On the right, a lone woman walking on the beach is captioned with “Looks you’ll love – your guide to summer style.”
It is clear that the storytelling part is largely carried out by the left image, while the right image functions as the mediator between storytelling and uncompromising selling. However, in conjunction, both tell the story of a carefree, relaxed and enjoyable day at the beach, no matter if you are on your own or with a group of friends.
With Esprit, storytelling is, again, of a visual nature and doesn’t even try to be subtle. On the contrary, the fashion brand has realized how attractive stories are and wants to help readers make stories of their own.
The Moral of the Story
Whether you sell do-it-yourself products, clothing or food books – stories and their easily conveyed messages have the potential to improve your marketing efforts by transporting desirable fantasies that closely relate to the products you sell.
That said, stories are not a fool proof method and you still have to execute the storytelling process well. But with the occasional help of a content expert, a professional writer or simply by looking at the various do’s and don’ts articles on the internet, you should be able to get some positive results by making use of your professional creativity.
Tell a story, do it well and engage your potential customers in a way that simple advertising simply can’t. Your audience will be grateful and repay you with interest, communication and (ideally) an increase in sales.